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  1. #1
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    The Politics of Prohibition

    Before I joined this learned and cordial group, all I knew about Prohibition came from a scant mention during my history classes in school plus watching the TV shows, "The Untouchables" and "The Roaring 20's". In fact, I had little interest in the phenomenon, except for its role in fostering organized crime.

    Now I find myself wondering how such a stupid idea ever gained sufficient public support to become law -- and not just a statute, but an amendment to The Constitution.

    Do you realize what a high barrier must be surmounted to amend The Constitution? To originate in Congress a proposed amendment must be approved by a 2/3 majority in both houses. Then it must be approved by the legislatures or specially convened conventions in 3/4 of the states. When was the last time our society achieved such an overwhelming consensus? On anything? (In today's environment, even a resolution in support of motherhood, the flag and apple pie would certainly go down to defeat.)

    In an actual case those requirements proved sufficient to thwart an attempt to establish as the law of the land the truth of a proposition that is obviously true based on all historical precedent, both legal and social -- except that in this matter a few pinhead judges have chosen to ignore it. But I digress.

    How, then, did Prohibition achieve the necessary support to become the law of the land? In spite of my political leanings, I find myself idly wondering whether there is any parallel between the outcome of the past election and the conditions that led to Prohibition.

    Does anyone know of a history of Prohibition that addresses my question in a pragmatic way?

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2004 and Guru
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    Ya know...I can't answer your question cause it really baffles me that it "actually happened".

    Here is "my opinion" on this stupid bunch of Historical crap...

    Things, like "Carrie Nation" and that preacher man---whatever his name is...(escapes me now)..."things" kinda fits! I know those are just two names but two that were the leading force in this act of crap that gave birth to "alot more than babies" in our great Nation

    In the early years of the KFB Festival, I ran the booth for Heaven Hill. This woman came in our booth dressed as Carrie Nation...Preaching the "bible" and the "Hells of Drinkin"...

    Hmmmmmmmm...good thing she caught me on HH's time...I told her to move on or I will have her moved out immediately I assume, she judged the look in my eyes and the tone of my voice, she knew to leave and leave quickly...

    I am "ashamed" that this woman is a Kentucky Native.

    Prohibition, nearly destroyed my family. In the early years right before Prohibition my great Grandfather Joseph L. Beam invested (42 shares at $100 each) with Jim Beam (his cousin) in the F.G. Walker Distillery on Jan. 9th, 1917...This act shut the place down and they lost it all...That's a incredible amount to loose in the dark days.

    Prohibition forced my grandfather to dismantle a entire distillery, move it to Mexico and distilled there for three years to make money...He worked for Pappy VanWinkle in the late 20's---I have a letter (posted on these forums) from Pappy addressed to my family at Pop Beam's death...Pappy wrote, he was the "Dean Distiller of his Age"...

    He came back to Kentucky and ran for Jailer of Nelson County He ran a second term unopposed...I have posted a picture on his forum with my entire family of Beams (it's in the new HH Visitor center now) in front of the Jail house in Bardstown. At the time of that picture he (Joseph L. Beam) was Master Distiller for the newly formed Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery...

    I can nearly bet that during all those years he dreamed that someday the tables would turn and he could someday Distill "legally" again He made a come back and was nearly "lost" in History.

    My job...and a promise to my late Aunt Jo was to keep the "Spirit of our Beam Heritage alive"...I am keeping that promise to her She started it and I'm gonna complete it

    I would have loved to been around to hear the exciement in his voice when he learned that Prohibition had ended...I bet ya...he hollered "Katie lets go start that distillery"!!

    On June 22, 1935, the incorporation papers were filed at the Nelson County Court house in Bardstown...The four names listed are Nolan, Muir, (Gary) Shapira and (Joseph L.) Beam ...

    Well, enough of that I'm venturing way, way, "Off Topic"

    Bettye Jo

  3. #3
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    Prohibition grew out of a 19th century philosophy that human beings were "perfectable." It's not hard to see the religious sources of that belief. The three great movements spawned by this belief were the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and temperance. The leaders and participants in these three movements were often the same people. Its leaders were predominantly protestant ministers and their female parishioners.

    The "temperance" movement started out as just that, an assault on drunkenness but not absolute prohibition. This movement began at about the same time as the abolitionist movement. They were often two sides of the same coin. Throw in universal suffrage and you have a three-sided coin. Of the three movements, universal suffrage was the least popular, but I digress.

    So, you have the vanguard of the anti-alcohol movement acting on a deeply held religious belief that alcohol is simply evil, the work of the devil, and a major source of evil in the world. Preventing its abuse (and, ultimately, any use came to be viewed as abuse) was considered God's work.

    When you consider that drinking and getting drunk was something that men did, often in cities to the point of drinking up their wages and leaving their families destitute, and going to church and praying about it was something that women did, you can begin to see how a women's rights movement was a natural outgrowth, but I digress again.

    The temperance movement began in the mid-19th century, so what happened to ultimately make it successful in the early 20th? The answer is massive immigration by alcohol-using Catholics, including wine-drinking Italians, beer-drinking Germans, and ale- and whiskey-drinking Irish. (We don't usually think of Germans as Catholics, but as the German principalities became more generally protestant, it was often the German Catholics who immigrated.)

    The majority of these immigrants lived in cities, worked in factories and were often drunk on the job, especially after lunch. This led the owners of the factories, generally Americans of English descent who either didn't drink or drank moderately and didn't think their access to alcohol would be impeded, to also favor prohibition. In the general public, prohibition also came to be viewed as a way of taming, if not fully Americanizing, those scary immigrant hoards with their weird habits and scary religion.

    The success of passing prohibition becomes a little easier to understand when you view it as a nativist protestant initiative aimed at immigrant Catholics. The immigrants had political power in the cities, but were largely powerless on the larger state and especially national stages.

    Are there parallels to the country's divisions today? Not parallels, perhaps, but certainly similarities, in that the divisions are often as much about race, class and culture as they are about the surface issues they seem to be about.

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    I would say there is a parallel to today's politics in that deeply felt religion - "values" in today's parlance - periodically asserts itself as a force to be reckoned with in American national life and (therefore, ultimately) politics. Sometimes that is for the good, e.g., the abolition of slavery, women's rights. Sometimes others' rights get caught up in these movements, e.g., those who wish to take a drink when they want, or who earn their livelihood in the beverage alcohol industry (as Bettye Jo said), were brushed aside by Volstead.

    Today, the drink issue is a closed one, but we see the same attitudes at play in related areas, recreational drug use is one. Still, this is a different time, can one imagine for example that the wife of a senior proponent of alcohol abolition in the early 1900's would have stated publically, "What happens in Vegas [or whatever the sin city of the time was] stays in Vegas". I mean, times have changed..

    A factor not mentioned in terms of sealing the decision to adopt Prohibition was the abandonment of alcohol by physicians. For centuries alcohol was regarded as therapeutic or at least benign by medicine. By the early 1900's the scientific establishment largely abandoned that attitude and henceforth viewed alcohol as a health threat plain and simple (the medicinal exemption in Volstead notwithstanding). H.L. Mencken said alcohol's fate was sealed when doctors gave up on alcohol as a tonic for health. Today, that attitude has been modified by studies showing moderate alcohol use is good for the heart, and that likely will help stop any fundamentalist attempt to bring back alcohol prohibition (itself unlikely, though).

    Withal, we live in a different world today, but the attitudes that brought Prohibition to America are still very much with us: they simply operate on a different terrain than in the years leading up to Volstead. IMO.

    Gary

  5. #5

    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    Prohibition grew out of a 19th century philosophy that human beings were "perfectable." It's not hard to see the religious sources of that belief.
    I'm veering a little off topic here, but my simple Protestant upbringing makes it very hard to see the religious sources of that belief. According to my religious learning, one of the tenets of Christianity is the acknowledgement that men are NOT perfectable (on earth, anyway). Thus, I don't think it's the so-called 'conservative' religionists of today who are the modern parallel -- but, rather, the often non-religious 'fairness' police who also seek to 'perfect' societal outcomes.
    Anyway, back on topic -- Prohibition was repealed Dec. 5, 1933. Tomorrow (Sunday) is the anniversary. Happy Repeal Day!

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    It is true and perhaps ironic that this notion of human "perfectability," which sprang in the early to mid 19th century from protestant theology (though in the context of that time, terms such as "conservative" and "fundamentalist" are somewhat meaningless), has during most of the 20th century been promoted by Communists and others on the political left.

  7. #7

    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    Prohibition forced my grandfather to dismantle a entire distillery, move it to Mexico and distilled there for three years to make money...
    That's what Pernod did when absinthe became illegal in France. He moved his distillery to Spain.

    So what happened in Mexico? Was he distilling bourbon or something else? If it was bourbon, was he selling it in Mexico? Why did he stop distilling in Mexico?

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2004 and Guru
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    So what happened in Mexico? Was he distilling bourbon or something else? If it was bourbon, was he selling it in Mexico? Why did he stop distilling in Mexico?
    He distilled whiskey for Waterfill and Frazier...I don't know for certain the exact reason he left but I would suspect "family roots" guided his way back home to Kentucky. My grandfather (the youngest of the seven sons), Harry Beam was with him at the time

    My Great Uncle Otis (Otis was ten years older than my grandfather), was with them too...he took Katie Lou, his daughter with him. His young wife died giving birth to Katie Lou. I spoke with with her about this subject. I asked her could she remember anything about being Mexico during Prohibition? She remembers very little. She is coming to visit me in a short while. I am hoping that after alot of thought she can remember a few more things

    Bettye Jo

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    Good point. It is not just religion, or any one of them, that can be characterised as promoting values, and in fact, humanism and secularism can in many cases be seen as another form of value-driven thinking (take the environmental movement for example, especially in its more extreme forms). Maybe it is better to say, not that religion periodically asserts itself as a national force, but rather the spirit of perfectability (which entails the desire to control social behavior) does, which can manifest in a variety of ways. It seems in fact an inherent part of America's temper, alongside the values of tolerance and individual liberties. All Western countries in fact experience such phenomena and Prohibition or a version of it was a force in Europe too for many years, especially Scandinavia and other parts of Northern Europe.

    Gary

  10. #10
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    Re: The Politics of Prohibition

    The "alchohol is evil" concept still resonates in American society, which I didn't fully appreciate until I visited the UK, where neighborhood pubs are (to my experience, anyway) wholesome places in a way that no American bar could ever achieve. (I'm sure there are vile dives in the UK, but the pubs I visited were all pretty nice.) Although on one level it's fairly universally accepted, on another level Americans have never quite been able to shake the "alcohol is evil" mindset, alas.

 

 

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